Using boron to store hydrogen

Years ago there was a nutter on Usenet who used to keep telling us all that Boron was just the thing to enable the storage of hydrogen.

You\’d be able to fill up a car tank, just like you do with petrol.

Turns out he wasn\’t a nutter after all.

Cella Energy is hoping to start selling hydrogen fuel to mix with petrol by about 2013 and gradually expand its use.

Prof Stephen Bennington, the leading scientist on the project, said: \”In some senses hydrogen is the perfect fuel. It has three times more energy than petrol per unit of weight, and when it burns it produces nothing but water.\”

However, one of the problems with hydrogen is that it does not occur naturally. Previous hydrogen cars have generated the fuel using gas or renewable energy – leading to questions over whether it is as environmentally friendly as it seems.

Cella insists that its hydrogen, made from hydrides, does not have the same problem – since the key ingredient is abundant and easily accessible.

And what\’s the complex hydride?

Our current composite material uses ammonia borane NH3BH3 as the hydride…

OK, not the finished item but shows that not everyone on Usenet was entirely howling at the Moon then.

A method of getting hydrogen to act like petrol, to run through an ICE, would lead to an interesting little conundrum. Which would win out? The ICE, in which we\’ve got a century\’s research invested, which is really pretty efficient given the theoretical limits of the technology and which has a huge infrastructure behind it.

Or the in theory vastly more efficient fuel cell which is really only just getting out of the starting blocks?

4 thoughts on “Using boron to store hydrogen”

  1. Yes, but there must be something environmentally damaging about the idea. There just has to be……
    Boron is used in nuclear reactors!
    I’ll get the Greenpeace press statement ready for release.
    “Radioactive fuel will poison planet!!!!!!!”
    How’s that?

  2. From the Telegraph article: “Researchers claim that their new green source of energy could be as cheap as 90p per litre after tax – well below the current price of about 130p per litre.”

    Is that what they mean? Because:

    (i) Only around 1/17th of the liquid’s weight is actual usable fuel (according to the linked article on Cella’s website). Surely they must mean the unit cost by energy equivalence rather than by volume.

    (ii) Of the current petrol price, 71p is tax (including VAT on the fuel duty, but not including a further 10p of VAT on the non-duty sale price – ie the actual petrol cost). Of this 71p, IIRC, somewhat less than half funds the roads (reasonably sensible funding mechanism roughly proportional to usage). Thus, should the government wish, and without introducing a new road funding mechanism, the price of petrol could easily be dropped by at least 35p/litre, to a pump price of no more than 95p/litre.

    Then one must add that 16/17’ths by weight of the proposed hydride ‘fuel’ has to be pumped out of the car during refuelling: I wonder what that does to range as against tank capacity. Also that 16/17’th of the wholesale distribution weight is non-fuel. And that (unless rehydrogenation is done at local petrol stations) that 16/17th’s has to be shipped back to the ‘refinery’: increasing the tanker fuel costs, though perhaps not so much on driver costs. And where is all this hydrogen to come from, and what other things do we currently use it for? Well, on all that, I’d like to see a fuller working out of the true economic cost to road transport fuelling by this method.

    As the Telegraph also writes: “There will, of course, be sceptics.”

    This technology may well have other potentially viable applications, by does it deserve a taxpayers’ subsidy for a suspect application in support of the CAGW fallacy?

    Best regards

  3. I imagine that just like the equine vegetable combustion engine, the ICE will be used in parallel with the fuel cell until the latter matures.

  4. From reading the article this is just for storing hydrogen. You still need to find your hydrogen.

    The renewable way to get hydrogen is through electrolysis of water which is currently around 30% efficient. There are rather dubious claims that electrolysis of water can be up to 50-70% efficient, but like cold fusion I’ll believe that when I can see it.

    If the hydrogen is used in a combustion engine then only 30% (guesstimate) of the energy gets converted into useful mechanical energy due to the efficiencies of the Carnot cycle. So we get a total of 3% efficiency of engine + fuel.

    An electric motor is roughly 80% efficient (including regenerative braking)

    A hydrogen fuel cell is very roughly 70% efficient. Including the hydrogen we get 21% efficiency. Used in an electric car we get a total of 16% efficiency.

    Recharging a modern battery is approx 95% efficient. Used in an electric car we get a total of 76% efficiency.

    All back of a fag packet calculations…..

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